Ever wonder why were fighting in Afghanistan – and how we got involved there in the first place?
Investigative 60 Minutes reporter George Crile came up with a surprising answer in his astute 2004 best-seller which Aaron Sorkin (The American President, TVs West Wing) shrewdly adapts for the screen.
Apparently, its all because of Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a swingin Democratic Congressman from East Texas. Seen naked in a hot tub, boozing and snorting with strippers in Las Vegas, Charlie is a male chauvinist, admittedly hiring his office staff based on their measurements and pulchritude. Hes also vulnerable, particularly when approached by a beautiful constituent like wealthy Houston socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), an outspoken anti-Communist who wants to arm the Afghan militia to fight the Russians who have invaded their country.
To that end, she arranges for Charlie to meet with Pakistans President Zia ul-Haq (Om Puri) in Islamabad and visit an Afghan refugee camp. At Charlies side is maverick CIA agent, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who cleverly brokers a covert deal for Israel to sell Russian-made weapons to the Afghan freedom fighters – and the Soviet-made Stinger missiles convince Soviet troops to retreat in 1989. But by arming the mujahedin, Charlie Wilson inadvertently set the stage for Al Qaeda and Islamic Fundamentalism.
To propel this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, geopolitical deal-making caper, Mike Nichols fast-paced direction takes an ironic, satirical, often shallow tone, as does Tom Hanks cynical Good Time Charlie characterization. Scene-stealing Philip Seymour Hoffman is terrific but Julia Roberts just coasts through, often eclipsed by Amy Adams (Enchanted) as Wilsons long-suffering personal assistant.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Charlie Wilsons War is a lively, enlightening 8 and the real Charlie Wilson is retired and living in Lufkin, Texas.